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Crandall Canyon familes, UMWA tell Congress: Now is the time to make change

October 3, 2007

OCTOBER 3, 2007

CONTACT:        Phil Smith

    Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, family members of the miners still underground and those killed in the rescue effort at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah last month told the committee, “The government needs to ensure that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is truly enforcing safety in the mining industry and regulating the industry, not turning a blind eye to dangerous mining practices.”

    Several family members made individual statements before the committee, including Jose Luis Payan, brother of Juan Carlos Payan, who died at Crandall Canyon. Jose Payan, who also worked at the mine, testified that, “The mine was making us nervous. The bump in March of this year was very scary. It required us to clean the mine floor from the coal that exploded from the sides and roof of the mine. The bump also damaged the conveyor and some equipment. Many left the mine. We trusted the mine owners, that they would not mine in dangerous conditions. Our trust was misplaced.”

    “MSHA needs to be investigated to determine whether it was independent and proper in approving the mining of the barriers and in the rescue operations,” Payan said. “It is our hope that we can reach Carlos someday and take him to his homeland of Mexico for burial. In the meantime, my mother cries herself to sleep every night, as do my sisters.”

    Steve Allred, brother of Kerry Allred, said, “Our lives are changed forever. Had Murray Energy been a responsible company, held accountable by the United Mine Workers and MSHA, I do not believe my brother would have died.” Crandall Canyon was a nonunion mine. Steve Allred has been a miner himself since 1978.

    United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts testified, “It is deeply distressing that Murray Energy sought to mine the barrier pillars supporting the mountain above the mine. That plan should never have been submitted. Further, and perhaps more importantly, MSHA should never have approved any such request.”

    “It is high time for mine operators and MSHA to realize that miners’ lives, not the mining product, is the most valuable resource of the mining industry,” Roberts said. “Only when they come to this conclusion will the needless loss of life in our nation’s coalfields end.”

    Roberts identified several failures of MSHA to follow the MINER Act during the rescue and recovery effort at Crandall Canyon. Congress passed that Act last year in the wake of the Sago, Aracoma and Darby disasters in 2006.

    “In the MINER Act, Congress took action to ensure that families would be treated with the dignity they deserve and would be kept informed of the most accurate information available,” Roberts said. “This did not happen at Crandall Canyon. Like the Sago families last year, they were held almost as captives, awaiting any bits of information–or misinformation–delivered by the coal operator.”

    “The manner in which Mr. Murray treated all family members was disrespectful and disgraceful,” said Nelda Erickson and Amanda Romero, the wife and daughter of Don Erickson. “No other family members should ever be treated as badly as we were by Mr. Murray.”

    “How is it possible MSHA could get it so wrong in Utah?” Roberts asked. “How could it ignore the mandates of Congress, which require the agency to take charge of incidents like Crandall Canyon and serve as the liaison with the families and the press? By allowing this mine owner [Murray] to take center stage and deliver misinformation to the public and treat the families with an attitude verging on contempt, MSHA ignored the directives of the MINER Act.”

    “Something must be done to change the status quo,” Roberts testified. “Leaders must be held accountable for their actions and inactions. The miners of this nation can no longer be asked to sacrifice their safety when their employers are focused on monetary profit with little regard to their employees’ well-being. It is time to put effective measures in place so that a miner can be a miner without jeopardizing his or her life.”

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